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The First Gender-Free Store in the World Is Pushing Fashion Forward

The First Gender-Free Store in the World Is Pushing Fashion Forward

The Phluid Project

Introducing The Phluid Project. 

When it comes to changing the landscape and pushing the fashion industry forward, Rob Smith of The Phluid Project is at the forefront. The founder of the first gender-free store in the world, located in New York City's Soho neighborhood, Smith sees his The Phluid Project as the future of retail. The space stocks its own private label, along with brands like OAK and Wesc--all of which are gender-fluid.

Related | This Young Queer Designer Is Ready to Dominate the Fashion Universe

Furthermore, the retail experience also acts as an open space to exchange and share ideas with a cafe in the back of the store, and a community center downstairs. The Phluid Project hosts talks and hosts rotating artist residencies as well.

We chatted with Smith to learn more about The Phluid Project and what the space has lined up for Pride Month this season.

OUT: Tell us about the inspiration behind The Phluid Project?

Rob Smith: The Phluid Project is an opportunity to merge my professional background and expertise with my personal passion. There is a paradigm shift that is currently happening in our society. Today's young people are leaving behind the traditional roles and structures that constrained generations prior. They are choosing to live a freer and more self-expressive life. I am taken and inspired by their intuitive understanding of identity and wanted to create a safe space to nurture and encourage individuality. In many ways, I have created a retail space and community center I wish I had access to as a young person.

What was missing in the market and why did you decide to launch this now?

RS: Especially as a reflection of my time spent mentoring at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, I realized the appetite for, albeit the lack of, gender-free clothing in the marketplace. After 30 years of professional experience in the industry, I genuinely believe this is the future of retail. Phluid is a unique intersection of retail, cafe and community and therefore tapping into a human's lifestyle. The embrace and vocal appreciation we have received from young people, older generations, parents, members of the LGBTQIA community and beyond shows the power of and the place for a store like The Phluid Project.

Tove Lo

What are some of your favorite customer reactions? How is the space being received?

RS: The overall reaction has been extremely positive. It has become very evident that people are starving for a shopping experience like ours, a space which allows you to be yourself, where assumptions are checked at the door and honoring the individual is priority.

We are regularly complimented on how freeing it is to try on a skirt, for instance, a product which is marketed as a female garment and feminine expression, and to try it on with confidence and no fear of judgment, no matter your gender. I've also met parents who have driven from out of state to visit our store with their children. To witness first-hand parents from other states bringing their children to Phluid because they've read about us and know their child will benefit from the Phluid shopping experience makes it all worth it. It's so special and gratifying to know you are offering a safe and inviting space for people to be themselves.

What can we expect from The Phluid Project during Pride Month?

Phluid is the place to shop for your Pride wardrobe, and to celebrate what makes us alike and what makes us different. We're already an event-driven space, but have decided to take it to the next level starting Friday, June 1st with a Pride Kick-off Party to commemorate the start of Pride Month. We are also very excited about Phluid Fest on Saturday, June 23rd. There will be Pride products and stickers available. We've created a selection of graphic tees with messaging including We're So Over Gender, Gender Phuck, and Be Human.

A full list of our Pride Calendar is below. Every event is open to all. You can also find more information here.

June 4th - 10th: Sawyer DeVuyst Artist Residency / Pop-up

June 11th: Capturing Rainbows x Generations Project event

June 13th: Spartan Pride Event

June 14: Trans Women of Color Collective Fundraiser

June 15th - 17th: SIR NYC Archives Pop-up

June 19th: Phluid Pop-up @ The Soho House

June 21st: Queer Poetry Night

June 23rd: Phluid Phest

June 26th: Queer Poetry Night

June 27th - 30th: Tom Boy X Pop-up and closing party


Finally, tell us about your Social Code--and why was that important for you to create?

RS: Our social code was a labor of love, and one central to the heart and soul of Phluid. It is made up of 10 codes of conduct. They are listed on the website as well as on-site in our community room and store. It is important that we make them known. At Phluid, both the sales associates and the consumers are expected to uphold our core values. Honoring them is what makes us a safe, inviting and free space - the world needs that now, and always.

Social Code

We celebrate what makes us different and we cherish what makes us the same
We check our assumptions at the door
We push society's boundaries while honoring our own
We listen and communicate with care
We give respect and earn trust
We know the risk it takes to learn
We are all teachers and we are all students
We believe in free speech without discrimination
We make room for everyone at The Phluid Project
We ask that you open our space with an open heart because we are all stronger together

For more information on The Phluid Project and to shop the store if you're not in NYC, check out their website here.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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